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(Context in case it's helpful: My son is 12. He created an Instagram account for himself at school this past year. Since he doesn't meet the Instagram age requirement (13 and up), I tried to follow the help instructions on instagram to delete the account. The account seems to have limited functionality, but still be in existence. When I try to choose "Manage Apps," it says "You have not authorized any applications to access your Instagram account." He can't visit Instagram on his account on our home computer due to not having a smart phone and the internet safety rules set up on his account.)

I think I understand most of the things my son is interested in doing on the web, but not Instagram. I don't know what teenagers typically do with Instagram.

Question A: if a group of pre-teens are active on instagram, and my son doesn't have an account, what will he be missing? I need the specifics, please.

Question B: Any tips for helping prevent instagram from becoming a huge time sink for him over the next few years? I already know about the general things (providing plenty of wholesome non-computer activities, using internet filtering and time controls, putting the family computer in a high-traffic part of the house) -- I'm looking for tips specific to Instagram.

I plan to post this question on Web Apps as well. If you can respond to the parenting aspects, please do, and don't worry if you can't give me the full picture.

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    This might be a bit broad. Have you asked your son these questions? What did he say? – anongoodnurse Aug 1 '15 at 22:41
  • The child has OCD, so the more we talk about it, the more he will yearn for it. Also, the instagram initiative is coming from a friend of his. My child is about as clueless about Instagram as I am. – aparente001 Aug 2 '15 at 14:22
  • Does that mean you have spoken to him about it and he was unable to enlighten you at all, or that you have avoided talking abut it? – anongoodnurse Aug 2 '15 at 14:32
  • A little of both, and the main point I'm trying to convey is that I'm stuck and that's why I came to StackExchange to ask for some info. – aparente001 Aug 2 '15 at 14:40
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Instagram is essentially a social network, with an emphasis on sharing photographs. (Think of Facebook, but instead of saying "just had a delicious burrito for lunch," you'd post a picture of it and caption it "my delicious lunch burrito.") Users have followers, and they can choose who to share their content with and who they want to communicate with.

Since we're primarily interested in how tweens use it here, I asked my 11-year-old about it. She doesn't have an account, but has friends who use it in various ways.

They share photos of funny things, and really cool things that happened to them, stuff like that. It's just a way to share funny and cool information with each other. You can tell people that stuff they're doing is awesome. You're able to give a lot more positive feedback than if you're just emailing back and forth. Most of the time you don't give negative feedback.

(Why would you not give negative feedback?) Well, you want to make feel better and happier. If they share something like "I'm so sad," you can help them be happier again. I guess there will be people who are rude and stuff, but, yeah.

That last part particularly piqued my interest. Research has shown that there are some positives to social media for tweens and teens (enhanced communication, strengthening social connections, helping develop a sense of self and place in the world), but there are also plenty of negatives (cyberbullying, “Facebook depression,” exposure to inappropriate content).

Knowing my daughter's circle of friends, I'm fairly confident that their interactions would be as friendly online as in person, and so I believe her when she says most of the interactions are positive. This is very dependent on the kids and friends, though; my friend's daughter got an Instagram account "because everyone has one!" After weeks of increasingly rude crap from her so-called friends (mostly "lol u weren't at this" pictures from parties she hadn't been invited to), the account got deleted. She's welcome to have it back when she's a bit older, with stronger emotional maturity and also some new friends.

There is a good article, "What parents need to know about Instagram," published by Media Smarts: I particularly liked, "T.H.I.N.K. before you comment on a friend’s photo: is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, Kind?" My primary followup advice would be to disconnect from anybody who doesn't T.H.I.N.K. before posting.


To dig into the time sink question a bit, I have to turn back to the 11-year-old's anecdotes:

(Do you know anybody who uses it too much?) My friend M. spends way too much time on there. She's constantly on it, like all day, at [day camp], at home, she does it when she's eating, she does it in the bathroom, which, it's really weird. She just uses it way too much.

(How about any friends who use it sensibly?) L. is very consistent, she only goes on there at most thirty minutes a day. She only shares really cool pictures. One time she shared a picture of really cool gymnastics moves since she's really accomplished, but she doesn't share everything that happens every single day. Just important stuff.

So for a tip that is specific to Instagram, only share relatively important things. But, if he's viewing pictures shared by friends rather than sharing pictures he creates himself, there really aren't recommendations that are different from general Internet recommendations.

  • We figured out that the friend knows how to upload a photo of her cat to Instagram but she doesn't know how to paste or attach a photo to an email. And we figured out that when she wrote an email saying, "I'll text u on instagram," what she meant was that she would post a photo on Instagram that she wanted to show him. I will suggest that my son teach her how to put a photograph in an email, because that's the only way he's going to be able to see it! ... Your answer helps me prepare for when he's 13 and can officially have an Instagram account, thanks. – aparente001 Aug 2 '15 at 16:18
  • A lot of kids don't actually understand the full possibilities of the technology they use (such as attaching a photo to an email), which is how they may also easily end up with privacy concerns depending on the sites or apps they use. Having your son teach his friend a new "trick" sounds like a great solution :) – Acire Aug 2 '15 at 17:54
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    @aparente001 Full disclosure: Instagram is owned by Facebook, even though it's developed independently. – user11394 Aug 3 '15 at 5:18

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